Lightning sparks two midvalley wildfires |

Lightning sparks two midvalley wildfires

A fortuitous rainstorm and a gutsy decision by Carbondale fire chief Ron Leach prevented two potentially catastrophic wildfires from spreading in subdivisions Thursday.A sharp lightning storm that blew through the midvalley touched off a fire in the Panorama Estates subdivision in Missouri Heights about 4:30 p.m. Firefighters working there saw lightning spark another fire across the valley in the Prince Creek subdivision two miles south of Carbondale about 45 minutes later.Neither fire damaged any houses.Carbondale firefighters pounced on the Panorama Estates fire within five minutes, thanks to Leach’s decision to have a fire engine patrol outlying areas of the sprawling district. Leach decided 10 days ago that the risk of wildland fires was so great that he needed to take an active approach to firefighting rather than waiting to respond.While the district is incurring costs by burning fuel and staffing the truck, it paid big dividends. The fire started in the middle of Panorama. Five houses were immediately threatened. Quick response was vital.”Every dime they spent was worth it,” said Basalt fire chief Scott Thompson, referring to the engine on patrol.The Carbondale and Basalt fire departments scrambled to get additional equipment and firefighters on the scene. “The potential was great for another devastating Panorama fire,” Leach said.Panorama Estates, about 3 miles from Highway 82, has an explosive history. A fire in the late 1980s threatened the area, and another blaze started there and spread throughout part of Missouri Heights in 2002.In addition to the fire truck on patrol, the Carbondale fire department sent six trucks and 18 firefighters to Panorama. Basalt responded with three engines and 10 fighters.”The engine that counted was the first one,” Leach said. “It worked. I’m just very pleased that it worked.”Leach and Thompson were equally thankful that Mother Nature helped them out at the Prince Creek subdivision. The fire burned about four acres and threatened six houses before heavy rain doused the flames.Firefighters had prepared for the worst. Crews from Glenwood Springs and the Upper Colorado River Interagency districts sent crews as well. Helicopters had been requested, but couldn’t launch because of the weather.The Carbondale and Basalt departments had pulled two and three fire engines to the threatened structures to try to defend them from the advancing flames. Automated reverse 911 telephone calls had advised residents about 15 homes in the subdivision to evacuate.Homeowner Michael Chandler said he saw the flames from Highway 82 as he was driving home. His wife, Jackie, had grabbed scrapbooks, a computer disk drive and a few other items when she left.Homeowners and firefighters rejoiced that the rain arrived just in time.”I’ve never seen it rain so hard up here,” Chandler said.As Leach drove through the subdivision to assess conditions and plan mop-up operations, he stopped at fire engines and thanked the crews for the preparations.”Hey, man, thank God for this rain,” Leach told one crew.Leach had already scheduled a community meeting for residents of Missouri Heights on Wednesday to discuss wildland fire threat and firefighting plans. That meeting will be at 7 p.m. on the firehouse along County Road 100. All Missouri Heights homeowners are encouraged to attend, regardless of which fire district they live in.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is

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